These incredible images show hungry ospreys hunting for fish at a trout farm in Rutland, UK.
The photographs were taken by wildlife photographer Geoff Harries from a purpose-built bird-watching hide at Horn Mill Trout Farm.
The hide was built after hunting ospreys caused a “significant impact” to the fish farm business.
Translocation projects in 1996 and 2005 saw a selection of osprey chicks bought from Scotland to Rutland as an effort to reintroduce the bird of prey to England.
As the number of ospreys increased, the number of trout at the nearby farm decreased, and by 2013, it was costing the business about £20,000 a year.
A decision was made to put netting over the ponds to stop the ospreys from ‘stealing’ the fish. However, after netting five of the six ponds, Rutland Osprey Project suggested leaving the largest pond uncovered.
In return, they built a four-person hide available for hire by photographers. As “the only reliable place in England to photograph ospreys fishing close up,” the hide now attracts snap-happy visitors from across Europe and has been rebuilt to accommodate more people.
Geoff Harries was one of the first photographers to use the hide. Read our interview with him, below.
Based in Cambridge, Geoff Harries was one of the first photographers to use the hide at Horn Mill when it opened in 2013. We caught up with him to find out about his experience photographing ospreys close up.
How did you get into wildlife photography?
Although I have been doing photography for 50 years, my interest in wildlife only began about 15 years ago after attending a workshop with Danny Green. He is a professional photographer and an ambassador to Canon cameras.
What is your favourite animal to photograph?
I like birds of prey and ospreys are probably my favourite, followed by owls.
What is your favourite place in the UK to photograph wildlife?
I obviously enjoy my visits to Rutland, but we are lucky with having Suffolk and Norfolk very close where there is so much wildlife to see and photograph. Barn owls are plentiful in Norfolk and on one visit there were nine birds flying in a field.
How did you find out about the hide at Horn Mill and is it a good place to shoot?
I found out about the plans to build a hide at Horn Mill from the Rutland website. I had tried to photograph the ospreys at Rutland water, but they were always too far away, so the idea of a hide close to the birds fishing made me get booked into the first session at the site.
It is unique in England and really brings you so close to the ospreys and creates a wonderful experience with photographing this beautiful big bird really close up.
Do you notice any change in osprey behaviour due to the abundance of fish at the farm?
It is impossible to say if the birds do react differently because of the large number of fish present. Not all the ospreys visit the site, but of the ones that do a particular bird tries to become dominant.
When first set up, osprey 03 (Mr Rutland) chased off other birds and had it as his exclusive feeding area. When 03, eventually at 20-years-old, did not return from migration, the current osprey 28(10) took over the role but has not prevented up to 10 ospreys fishing at Horn Mill.
I think that 28(10) will become more dominant over time, but he is still the most prolific fisher at the site catching up to eight fish a day.
I see that you have also photographed red kite hunting fish. Do you think that they mimic the ospreys or instinctively know how to hunt fish?
The red kites have learned how to take fish from the surface of the water when they are injured or dead. Not all of the kites have learned how to do this.
The herons at Horn Mill try to harass the ospreys to get them to drop the fish they have caught—an obvious adaption to ospreys at the site. But it has to be remembered that all this activity could have been taking place long before the hide was built, but now it is more concentrated with all the other ponds netted in.
Any tips for budding photographers wanting to catch the perfect osprey close-up shot?
Like all wildlife photography, there is never a ‘perfect shot’; that is the joy of this hobby, there is always a better shot.
Photographing birds in flight is very difficult and needs lots of practise, so there is no point in going to Horn Mill if you have no experience of this type of photography.
The osprey dives and grabs a fish from the water and flies off with it in its claws; the whole sequence usually takes about 5 seconds. Although the osprey is diving into a relatively small pool, predicting where it is going to hit the water and getting the camera to focus on it presents the main problem, as once it leaves the water focusing is very difficult.
Several visits are needed to get good images; most people on their first visit are totally surprised how quick it all happens. I have done a guide for photographers on how to set up their camera—this is published on the River Gwash website.
To see more of Geoff Harries’s wildlife photography, check out his website at stuartpics.co.uk.